Nick Versteeg – Runner


When I began writing for Ceevacs Connect and seeking runners who were willing to tell their stories, I had no idea that our blog was reaching so many runners. Then a friend emailed and recommended Nick Versteeg as someone who had an interesting story. I admit, I was a little nervous about interviewing someone I had never met but I was intrigued by what I heard about him; In less than a minute I was put at ease.

Nick Versteeg was born in Holland in 1949. When he came to Canada, he lived in a variety of places but most recently Vancouver, Cowichan Valley, Cowichan Bay and now Victoria. While living in Vancouver Nick was introduced to running by his son who was moving into a third floor, condo where he found out he was “not in such good shape”. Nick kidded him about it and four months later, his son announced that he was running in the Victoria Half Marathon. He invited Nick to watch. Nick’s son called again three months later, saying “You teased me into doing the half marathon” so “I’ve registered us to run in the Victoria Half Marathon next fall!” While Nick had never run before, he was motivated to try. He had 8 months to train. That was 10 years ago.

Nick was hooked and whenever he could, he ran the Victoria Half Marathon and the Vancouver Sun 10km but never trained for them. While living in Glenora, in the Cowichan Valley, Nick enjoyed running the Cowichan Autumn Classic. He liked to “wait for the cookies”. Nick declares “It’s fun to run for a certain time”, but “It’s just great to run.”

In 2019, Nick Versteeg planned to tour Europe for eight months, with his wife, Elly while completing his iBook biography series “From Baker to Filmmaker”. They visited family in Holland, travelled through Portugal and Spain shopping in markets, enjoying the local foods, and visiting museums, art galleries and castles in each country. And of course, Nick ran. He had signed up to run the Toulouse Semi (Half) Marathon in France on Sunday, October 20, 2019. As he finished the 21 km race, he raised the Canadian flag above his head. When he crossed the line, his name was announced, and he was acknowledged as the only Canadian to run the race. His ankles hurt from the cobblestones but otherwise, all was well. (Click on the video attached of Nick’s final 17 seconds before crossing the line).

Shortly after that, Nick and Elly settled in southern France, in Olonzac, known as the “Capital of the Minervois” a wine growing region with a population 1,797; about 400 residents more than Crofton. Olonzac was a friendly village, not far from the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea and the Spanish border with numerous roads that were rarely used; Ideal for runners like Nick. Only 20 minutes from Olonzac was Carcassonne, located on a hill, it is a historic, medieval city, surrounded by double walls 3km in length, with 52 towers spread throughout, and a citadel dating back to the Gallo-Roman times. In 1997, the Carcassonne castle was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Historically, another great place to run!

From Olonzac, Nick travelled by train to his second race late in February 2020. The 28th edition of the Paris Semi Marathon was to be held on Sunday, March 01st. On Friday, he picked up his bib and t-shirt. On Saturday, Nick scouted the route where he would be one of 40,000 runners racing the next day. When Nick arrived home Saturday afternoon, he checked his email and to his surprise, the Paris race had just been cancelled due to COVID. When he told me this, I thought “He just lost the moon!”

Nick and Elly are “pretty pragmatic” people. There were 40,000 people planning to run. Nick had run the Vancouver Sun 10k and was familiar with what it is like running with 50,000 runners.” In this case, it was best not to run that close to people. Yes, he was disappointed but “People’s health is #1.” Instead, Nick ran his own ½ marathon in the rain passing such sites as the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre which were not on the original route. Way to go Nick! Glad you didn’t let that training go to waste. While this was a huge disappointment, Nick later received an email that the race would be held in September. Unfortunately, that’s not happening either. Finally, Nick received the good news that he would get a voucher to enter any certified half marathon in the world. Wow!

Nick and Elly travelled to Mirepoix, France a small town with population of 3,162, just slightly larger than Chemainus. It was a beautiful, quiet rural town with covered walkways and houses painted in pastel colours. It was easy to run in. One week after the COVID announcement, a full lockdown was instituted, which meant when you left home you had to carry a piece of paper with your plan of what you were doing for the next hour. Runners were initially allowed to run where they wanted but were eventually restricted to run no more than 4km from their homes. Nick was lucky to be living in the Pyrenees, where it was a little easier to run than in the city and not so many people! When the Canadian Embassy alerted them to come home asap, they were in the beginning of the 14-day lockdown and felt it was a risk to fly so early in March. The planes were packed; it was chaos. After the 14-day lockdown was extended for another month, Nick and Elly chose to wait a while longer. Finally, they returned home to Victoria and were quarantined for 2 weeks. All has been well since with some incredible memories.

Nick has found running is not only a way to stay in shape, but it is a time when he can think creatively about his work and life. The thought to learn animation developed on one run. Running has inspired many ideas resulting in his making documentaries including productions about the Cowichan Valley such as “Once Upon a Day”, a short video that “showcases the beautiful Cowichan Valley” and “Resilience” a film about the Cowichan River. Nick had young chefs from all over the Canada competing on his show, “The Next Great Chef” which ran on Global for 2 years. While living on his hobby farm “The Laughing Geese”, near Glenora, he supplied the local chefs in Cowichan with produce. I looked up the origin of Mirepoix, France where Nick lived this year and found that mirepoix is a crucial ingredient in French cookery that includes carrots, onions and celery, acting as the base of many recipes. The name is derived from an 18th century Duke of Mirepoix who created the recipe. I wondered if Nick chose to live in Mirepoix because of his interest in food security and sustainability, another subject he is passionate about. You may also remember that last year, Nick introduced “A Just Society”, one of the most challenging of his 40-year career to more than 600 people at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre.

Nick asserts “You’re never too old to start running. I began to run at 60 and I turn 71 years old in July.” It’s easy to train. “Make it a habit; Decide to get out and run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.” In many of the places Nick has lived there have been hills and mountains. While running the Sooke 10k last year, he had the opportunity to talk with long time, Ceevacs runner, Hazura who gave Nick some sage advice as he ages. “I can run because I never run hills.” Nick has taken Hazura’s advice to heart and it works for him too.

A friend of Nick’s told me, “He has his best ideas when he is running and had hoped to run the Cowichan Autumn Classic” this fall, which sadly has been cancelled because of COVID. Instead, Nick will continue to enjoy running up and down mountains, along the Galloping Goose, around Happy Valley and other roads on the West Shore and Highlands. Nick states “I love running and plan to run for many more years.”

Thank you, Nick and Elly for sharing your story.
Ellen Candlish